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Universal Search

Google Universal Search is an effort by Google to drive more traffic to its other properties by including links to vertical search engine results that blend in with regular web page listings. If a vertical search result is considered more relevant, it can knock a regular web listing off of the first page. Universal Search doesn’t totally replace Google’s OneBox results. These are results that appear at the top of the search results that have a different format from the regular web listings and that don’t knock regular web listings off the first page. Results can appear from Google’s video, images, news, books, and local search engines. Search Engine Land provides a nice summary of the changes.

In the short term, Universal Search means that some small companies might have their listings pushed off the first page of Google in favor of a listing from a vertical search engine. Pure Visibility, in fact, had a search result temporarily pushed off the first page in favor of a news story about MSN acquiring aQuantive. Listings from video, images, news, and books probably tend to be non-commercial in nature; whereas a regular site listing will typically provide a better opportunity to market products and services. Local search results already have been fairly prevalent for local style queries, so this change won’t have as much of an effect. In the past, however, it was possible for a company to target a local search term with its website and not have to worry about a bunch of Google Map listings appearing over the top of it.

In the long term, marketers might expect Google to expand into more verticals and to promote them through Google Search. So it’ll be important to pay attention to the new search engines that Google develops. Google has been experimenting with changing results for popular verticals for a long time. As an example, they provide housing searches for real estate queries. Do a search for “Ann Arbor real estate” and there currently is a OneBox result that provides an on the page housing search underneath the paid results. Why does Google do this? One reason is if a list of search results takes you to a web page full of portals to more search results, Google might as well control that and possibly put it on the first page of results. The other reason is they want to promote Google Base.

Currently, universal search appears more like an effort to get traffic to multimedia results. It’s a part of providing a complete information gateway to certain queries. Part of the motivation is visitors don’t typically click on OneBox results as often as Google would like. From Google’s prospective it has to do with the look of the search result and not the importance of the result.

What happens if Google expands into other verticals? A lot of verticals already have been developed by other websites. If they have good listings on Google, marketers try and get listed there. Local search and real estate, for example, already had specialized directories that had good listings before Google decided to get involved in those verticals. Instead of getting listed in these directories, search engine advertisers might find themselves scrambling to get listed in Google’s newest vertical.

One surprising case of a very successful vertical is the Wikipedia. It dominates Google’s results for a range of queries and is a very popular general information source. If I was Google, what would be my biggest problem with the Wikipedia? It wouldn’t be the fact that anyone can contribute to it. It would be the fact that I don’t own it, and it doesn’t display my ads. Not only is Wikipedia prominent in Google search results, but it is also prominent in other search engines. It could have served as a gateway to Google from other search engines. Duplicating Wikipedia’s efforts wouldn’t be easy. It took years of work for it to develop into what it is today. So Google might count that as a missed opportunity. You can count on the fact that they don’t want too many more missed opportunities.

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About Steve Loszewski

Steve Loszewski leads the paid search team at Pure Visibility. He is individually qualified in AdWords, has the Google Analytics Individual Qualification, is an Oracle Database 10g Administrator Certified Associate, and is a Sun Certified Programmer for the Java Platform SE 6. Steve has been managing AdWords accounts since 2005 and also has experience in SEO. Most of his time is spent in the trenches, working with keywords, ads, bids, landing pages, placements, etc within the AdWords Interface. You can find him on Google+.

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